What's really happening at Abbey Road
February 17, 2010 by Norman Lebrecht
There was a removals van outside Abbey Road studios this morning, but I think it was for the house next door. This is not an overnight sale, nor is it the first time the studios have been floated on the market.
Sir Paul McCartney’s suggestion on BBC Newsnight that a ‘solution’ might be found does not necessarily means that Abbey Road will continue as a recording venue. Those days are gone, probably forever.
What Abbey Road could become is what London lacks – a museum of music in all its forms, a place to house the visual archives of Decca and EMI, the V&A’s unwanted instrument collection, an occasional live concert and a rotating exhibition of all that was weird and wonderful in the annals of the recording century.
Abbey Road is already a vibrant tourist magnet. With a modest admission charge, the site could pay its way under enlightened ownership.
Whatever its fate, the memories will remain – and mine are rich and varied. I can’t forget the fat soprano who broke a toilet seat during an Abbey Roand session (as it were) and blamed the offence on her weeping assistant. Or the famous early music conductor who kept coming into the control room to check that the producer and engineers were using the same ‘authentic’ score as he was – ‘he can’t hear the difference,’ giggled the recording team.
Or Yehudi Menuhin, who often seemed to be there on some business or other when I was around. He had been there in 1931 with Edward Elgar, recording his violin concerto, and with his teacher Georges Enesco doing the Bach double concerto, during the studio’s first year of operation. And he was there again on the 50th anniversary in 1981, recording the Bach double with a 12 year-old Chinese scholarship student at his school, a boy called Jin Li.
The record came out and vanished, never to be reissued on CD. Jin Li went on to make a good career as concertmaster in Singapore and soloist with many of the Asian orchestras. I asked him a while back what he remembered of that jubilee session. Here’s what he wrote:
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